DENVER — Along with great quarterbacks who all own Super Bowl rings, the four NFL teams hosting playoff games this weekend have a little something else on their side: an extraordinary home-field edge.
Seattle has the racket of Century Link, Green Bay the mystique of icy Lambeau. Denver’s mile-high altitude and NASCAR offense benefit the Broncos. And the Patriots appreciate the biting winds and bitter cold of foreboding Foxborough, where that hoodie sure comes in handy.
The four host teams are a combined 30-2 at home this season; each is at least a touchdown favorite in the divisional round.
In the last decade, only two other seasons, 2005 and 2011, featured collective records that good among the four hosts who sat out wild-card weekend, according to STATS.
Interestingly, in neither of those postseasons did any of the four win it all. Sixth-seeded Pittsburgh won in ’05 and the Giants won as a fourth seed to close out 2011.
This year’s foursome includes the Broncos and Packers with perfect home records, but not the top seed, so the road to the Super Bowl might not even go through Denver or Green Bay.
Seattle’s lone home loss was a 30-23 hiccup against Dallas during the champs’ early-season stumble. The other defeat was a giveaway: New England’s 19-7 loss to Buffalo in the season finale with the No. 1 seed already secured by the Patriots.
“Unnerving,” is how Richard Sherman describes the sound in Seattle, which can get so loud that the Seahawks’ defense has to find creative ways to make checks and calls.
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen played at Seattle with the Bears a few years ago and left with his ears ringing. He said he expects an even louder stadium Saturday night: “Playoff game, coming off a Super Bowl, I can only imagine.”
Denver quit being such an intimidating place to play after John Elway retired with two rings. It’s a big deal again since Manning’s arrival in 2012.
“Our fans have been great ... I think they cause problems for other teams,” Manning said, echoing sentiments in Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin. “Players just feed off that energy when you’re playing at home. I think it makes a big difference.”
Throw in the no-huddle and the lung-searing altitude and you can see why the Broncos are 24-3 at home with Manning, including 17-1 over the last two seasons.
“Playing up-tempo and then the altitude out here can really give a defense fits,” said C.J. Anderson, who knows it’s working when defensive linemen interlock their knuckles behind their head, heaving between snaps.
Indy defensive end Cory Redding argued the altitude effect is “all in your head,” adding: “it’s a bunch of uh, stuff.” But Colts coach Chuck Pagano knows better. He grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and played at Wyoming, which is about 2,000 feet higher than Denver. So he knows how the thin air can affect teams. Still, he decided against flying into Colorado a day early.
“Yeah, we mulled it over, but we figured sticking with the routine and having a normal week was better,” he said.
One of Denver’s three home losses under Manning came in the playoffs two years ago when Joe Flacco heaved a tying 70-yard rainbow to Jacoby Jones in the final minute of regulation. Flacco’s seven road playoff wins are the most in NFL history and includes two triumphs at Gillette Stadium, plus a 23-20 loss in which Billy Cundiff missed a short field goal at the end.
Flacco doesn’t get all the fuss over the home field.
“It’s tough to tell people why you’re not intimidated,” Flacco said. “I think it’s kind of funny that people would be intimidated at any point in any game against anybody. It’s just not in our nature. We’ve played in a lot of big football games and this is no (different).”
So the Ravens will, as usual, swagger into their opponent’s stadium Saturday.
“I look around all the time at the crowd when you first come out of the tunnel,” Ravens receiver Torrey Smith said. “I like the boos. I like to see all of what’s going on, see what kind of tradition they have. ... You would love to be home. But playing away, just the challenge of trying to quiet down the crowd is something that you love as a competitor.”
The Cowboys take an 8-0 road record into Lambeau Field in their first playoff game at Green Bay since losing the Ice Bowl in 1967. Never has an 8-0 road team played an 8-0 host in the postseason.
“I would say it’s like a frozen mystique, if you could say that, just because it’s hard to play in the cold,” Packers DB Jarrett Bush said. “It’s a different discomfort out there on the field, rather than being in Miami or Tampa, somewhere it’s really hot. The cold is totally different. Totally different ballgame.”
Of more concern for the Cowboys than the cold is Aaron Rodgers, who has thrown 418 times and 36 consecutive TD passes at home without an interception, both NFL records. He hasn’t been picked off at Lambeau Field since Dec. 2, 2012.
But the Cowboys might be better off away from AT&T Stadium, anyway. They were 4-4 there and needed a frenetic fourth-quarter rally to beat Detroit last week.
On the road, they look like an entirely different team.
“If we can take that same mentality to Green Bay,” safety Barry Church said, “despite all the cold, despite all that, if we can just take that mentality, us against the world, then I feel like we’ll have a good chance.”